I am going to begin this column by providing a bit of background on Safe, Productive and Infrastructure Friendly (SPIF) vehicles in Ontario. These vehicles are covered under the Highway Traffic Act regulation 413/05, Vehicle Weights and Dimensions. The SPIF regulations came into effect in four different phases that started in 2000 with phase 1, with the fourth and final phase being announced in 2010 and coming into law effective July 1, 2011.
The fourth phase covered straight trucks. The regulations were designed to provide safer vehicles for our highways, and to protect the infrastructure. The regulations lay out 31 different “prescribed combinations” that set out, among other things, allowed vehicle dimensions, including height, width, length, number of axles, type(s) of axles, weight allowed per axle and total gross vehicle weight. Laws were brought in through a grandfathered approach. For example, in the fourth and final phase, any truck manufactured prior to July 1, 2011, can operate under the pre-SPIF rules until Dec. 31, 2020, and with a permit, can extend this out further until the vehicle reaches 15 years of age. Any vehicle that was manufactured after July 1, 2011 was to comply with the rules effective immediately.
The SPIF rules did not come without their pain. In my previous job as a fleet manager, I dealt with the pains involved. Once the laws came into effect, we saw reductions in payloads for the newer spec’d SPIF vehicles when compared to the previous configurations we were using. There were also increased maintenance costs associated with self-steering axles. We suffered some initial performance issues with traction and steering control as weight distribution in some cases was less than ideal and weight was taken off the front steer, which is not good in winter driving conditions.
In short, I am acknowledging there were issues, however over time most of these issues were overcome by manufacturers and fleets. Loading of vehicles to ensure legal axle weights, especially vehicles that hauled bulk products, took some time to figure out, both for loaders and drivers. However, these pains were overcome once drivers and loaders gained experience in loading the new SPIF configurations. The gross vehicle weight losses were never fully regained, and a new business structure to account for this loss of revenue had to be found to stay competitive.
As the laws applied to all, we were all in the same boat. I am not saying we were happy, or that we even agreed with all the changes, but once it was clear things were not going to revert, we adjusted and did what was required. This came at a great cost and we, like many other players in the industry, paid our share to accomplish what was now legally required. Several PMTC members paid their dues and phased out old equipment and had to deal with the new reality. Several of these members operate essential services, such as delivery of home heating fuels, livestock feed and waste, to name just a few.
On Sept. 23, Ontario Minister of Transportation Steven Del Duca issued a letter to aggregate producers, haulers and other industry representatives, notifying them that the MTO would return to a phase 1 enforcement regime that had been in place until Aug. 1, 2016.
Effectively, this means the MTO will allow aggregate haulers to be overloaded on axle weights if they are within legal gross weights, are not beyond tire load limits and manufacturers’ gross axle weight ratings.
The MTO reached this decision, in part, because of strike actions that had been occurring at the Milton, Ont. weigh scales since Sept. 20. A segment of gravel haulers, mainly from the Toronto area, had been occupying the scale in protest of a return to strict enforcement of SPIF rules for the aggregate industry that had resumed on Aug. 1. In May of 2012, the MTO issued a similar notice, under then Transport Minister David Turnbull, indicating the MTO would not enforce a hard line on axle weights for the aggregate industry.
This was to be a short-term solution – which lasted four years and three months. The return to proper enforcement only lasted slightly more than six weeks, and then because of the strike action, phase 1 enforcement has been returned. In the view of the PMTC, the decision to not apply hard enforcement on axle weights to the aggregate industry either needs to be extended to all facets of the industry that are affected by these regulations – and there are many – or, the exemptions need to be removed in short order and the real issue dealt with. It has been over five years since the last phase came into effect, it is time we move forward and ensure the laws apply to all, fairly and equally.
Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.